Originally Published: October 12, 2018 5:04 p.m.
LAKE HAVASU CITY – The Lake Havasu City Police Department has since last month made five arrests as result of a two-year sex-trafficking investigation. This weekend, the department made new details of the investigation available to the public.
As early as May 2016, police received complaints of possible acts of prostitution at four Havasu massage parlors, the report said. Receiving witness testimony from former employees and from neighboring business owners, Lake Havasu City Police detectives were informed of suspicious activity that extended beyond Havasu and into Bullhead City, encompassing seven massage parlors throughout Mohave County.
Asian women were imported to the U.S., where they were coerced into performing sexual favors in exchange for money at the establishments, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Lon Weigand said last month. The victims were forced to work in excess of 12 hours per day, seven days per week, officials said, and were forced to live in poorly-lit, unsanitary conditions.
Victims in the alleged human trafficking ring were moved to different locations once per week, but were never told in advance where they would be going, Weigand said. Their only source of income came in the form of tips received in exchange for sexual favors.
One witness, who has not been identified by police, contacted the Lake Havasu City Police Department in February 2017 in reference to suspicious activity. The witness, who owns a West Acoma Boulevard business near one of the suspected massage parlors, fearing for his employees’ safety due to the massage parlor’s nightly clientele. According to the report, other West Acoma Boulevard business owners voiced their own concerns about the business.
The witness allegedly said that because of his concerns, he searched online for information about the business’s owner, 46-year-old Amanda Yamauchi, of Bullhead City.
Yamauchi, now considered by Bullhead City Police to be the human trafficking operation’s potential ringleader, was allegedly identified as the owner of a Las Vegas escort service and magic show, performing under the stage name, “Meow Meow.”
Yamauchi owned four of the seven massage parlors believed to have been involved in the human trafficking ring, the report said. While surveilling Yamauchi’s vehicle, detectives allegedly witnessed Yamauchi transporting women to the businesses from McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.
According to the Lake Havasu City Police Department, Yamauchi never reported any wages or earnings to the state of Arizona through the Department of Economic Security. Throughout 2018, however, Yamauchi allegedly deposited and withdrew more than $10,000 in eight financial transactions. She was arrested Sept. 20 in Bullhead City on charges of money laundering, prostitution, putting a person in a house of prostitution, receiving the earnings of a prostitute, keeping a house of prostitution, unlawfully obtaining labor or services, sex trafficking by coercion, human trafficking and knowingly benefiting from human trafficking.
Yamauchi was arraigned last Wednesday, and has pleaded not guilty to the charges. She is now represented in court by Havasu attorney Bradley Rideout. As of Monday afternoon, Yamauchi remained in custody at Mohave County Jail on $5 million bond.
Also arrested in the alleged human trafficking ring was Shui Mei Ching, 52, of Las Vegas. According to the police report, Ching owned another of the suspected massage parlors, located on the 1900 block of Mesquite Boulevard. Three undercover operations were undertaken at Ching’s business, the report said, during which three Asian women offered sexual favors in exchange for U.S. currency. Ching was also found to have never reported earnings or wages to the Arizona Department of Economic Security since purchasing the business in October 2017, the report said.
Officers served a search warrant Sept. 20 at Ching’s business, where they arrested 45-year-old Fang Fang Chen, of Cedar City, Utah, on charges of prostitution. Chen was allegedly located while servicing Bullhead City resident Dennis R. Weber, 65, who was also arrested on charges of solicitation of prostitution.
Cedar City resident Stephen C. Hansen, 41, identified by police as Chen’s boyfriend, was also arrested Sept. 20 when detectives learned he had driven Chen to massage parlors between Arizona, California and Utah for her to perform sexual favors in exchange for U.S. currency. Hansen was charged with felony pandering.
Ching was later arrested Oct. 2 in a traffic stop on charges of money laundering, prostitution, receiving the earnings of a prostitute, putting a person in a house of prostitution and keeping a house of prostitution. She remains in custody on $1 million bond, and is now awaiting an Oct. 12 appearance in Mohave County Superior Court.